The judge raises a libel suit against the Verizon company

Page alleged that he was harmed by posting false and defamatory statements suggesting that he was secretly planning with Russian leaders to sabotage the 2016 elections. Page was the target of a secret FBI surveillance campaign as part of an investigation into Russian interference in the campaign, but was never charged with misconduct.

The lawsuit was filed in July against Oath Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Verizon Communications Inc., now known as Verizon Media, to which Yahoo! and AOL. The company also owned HuffPost, formerly known as The Huffington Post, but sold it to BuzzFeed in November.

Page wanted to hold Oath liable for 11 articles, including one written by Michael Isikoff and published by Yahoo! in September 2016.

Page made a particular exception with Isikoff’s description of an information dossier compiled during the 2016 presidential campaign by Christopher Steele, a former British spy whose research into Trump-Russia relations was funded by Democrats. The FBI used the dossier to obtain search warrants despite being alerted that it might contain Russian disinformation, and a key source for Steele was himself the target of an FBI investigation into possible links with Russian intelligence.

Isikoff described the dossier as an “intelligence report” and described Steele as a “well-placed intelligence source” according to court records.

Oath attorneys argued that the Isikoff article and three other original HuffPost articles were “essentially true”. They also said the seven other articles that contributed to HuffPost were protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Judge Craig Karsnitz said in his ruling that the Isikoff article merely stated that US authorities were investigating reports of Page’s meetings with Russian officials and monitoring him for more than a year.

“The article does not claim that the plaintiff actually met with these officials,” noted the judge, adding that Page’s and Steele’s arguments regarding Isikoff’s description of the dossier were “either sophistry or political spin.”

“An intelligence report is simply a report on information that may be relevant to an investigation,” wrote Karsnitz. “It can take many forms, true or false, and used as opposition research and intelligence reports.”

The use of the term “well-placed source of information” does not give the coverage unfair credibility, the judge added.

Karsnitz also ruled that the Isikoff article was protected under the privilege of fair reporting in Delaware, which immunizes fair and accurate reporting of government proceedings.

Regarding the 10 HuffPost articles, Karsnitz said that Page, as a public figure, had failed to assert the actual malice of any of the authors and that the three articles written by HuffPost employees were true. Eid cannot be held liable for the seven HuffPost articles published by third parties under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, he said. This provision protects social media platforms from being sued by someone who feels harmed by something wrong, regardless of whether the complaint is legitimate.

Critics of both major political parties said Section 230 allows social media companies to relinquish their responsibility for impartially moderating content. Both Trump and his Democratic successor Joe Biden have called for his revocation.

Karsnitz noted that Section 230 anticipates Delaware law and that its application to the Page lawsuit is not “controversial”.

“The law should encourage” real diversity in political discourse, “he wrote. “HuffPost did just that by allowing third parties to speak out on a subject of immense political concern.”

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